A TIME TO CELEBRATE A WRITER’S BEST FRIEND
By: Virginia McCullough
Back in the 1970s, I worked as an assistant librarian at the Rockland Public Library, in Rockland, Maine. For one week in April, we wore special buttons at work. My favorite was, “Librarians are Novel Lovers.” We wore those buttons during National Library Week, and now the annual celebration of libraries has rolled around again, April 10-16. (April 12 specifically celebrates library workers. My three-year + stint as a library worker coincided with developing my nonfiction writing career, focused at the time on writing articles about women’s issues, family, and children’s lit.)
National Library Week is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and celebrates all libraries—public, school, academic, and special focus—and those who work in them. Each year, the week has a theme; the 2016 theme is transformation—meaning the power to transform lives in a digital age.
The day I got my first library card is one of my most wonderful childhood memories. We had to be able to write our names on the apricot-peach colored index card, and I remember forming each letter as I printed my name on the signature line. In return I got my very own library card, which meant I enjoyed the same status in that precious building as my parents and older sister. The building itself was memorable—the children’s room had famous murals painted by an artist hired in the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in the 1930s. (Chicago has numerous murals painted in public buildings during that era. I was an adult before I realized how unique they are.) That library also housed the largest collection of Braille books in the city.
My mother was a professional librarian in two different textbook publishing companies, but my small-town library didn’t have money to hire a head librarian with a master’s degree. Still, back in the pre-digital age, she and the four assistant librarians did everything. I was put in charge of inter-library loans and something called “readers’ advisory,” which meant I helped patrons choose books and loaded up bags of books for shut-ins or those living in retirement facilities. (Yes, we delivered books!) We all helped with reference questions, which is how I met many other writers in the area. This library was also a jewel of stone and brick, a Carnegie endowment building and prominent in town.
In 1975, the Maine Library Association’s featured conference speaker was Stephen King. He wasn’t yet as famous as he is today, but King was still an impressive “get” by the meeting planners. He spoke at length about finding solace from problems at home by spending many of his after-school hours at a public library and reading everything he could get his hands on—great preparation for a writing career. He’s not the only person I’ve heard say something similar, including many other writers.
I’m glad we continue to celebrate the value of today’s libraries and those who work in them. I know we have a few such people among our WisRWA membership. I also am grateful for the many changes we’ve seen in libraries over the last couple of decades. Print books, e-books, audio-books, music, movies, and interlibrary loan—and all free.
Years ago, some predicted the demise of libraries, or at least a trend toward irrelevancy. But those predictions were so wrong. Sure, libraries have kept up with the technology of our era, but we still see little kids arriving with their parents for story hour and haul stacks of picture books to the checkout counter—or the checkout computer.
Libraries thrive because they’ve grown and changed with the times. The library in Rockland eventually raised money for a new addition to keep up with the growing population, and my childhood library in Chicago was moved to a beautiful new and bigger facility down the block. Fortunately, the old landmark space became the new home of the famous Old Town School of Folk Music, with all its murals preserved for future generations.
Today’s librarians continue to do what they’ve always done: they serve current readers and create new ones. That’s why I will always think of them a writer’s best friend.